Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jeter Minus the Rose-Colored Glasses

I will echo Greg's sentiment - there isn't much reason (if any) to panic about Derek Jeter's recent struggles. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there's no reason to worry about Rodriguez, Teixeira, Cano, Gardner, Vazquez, Hughes, Pettitte, Sabathia, Chamberlain, Burnett, Rivera, or Robertson - I may worry about Park, though, as 2009 is looking more and more like a fluke every time he toes the rubber. While I do worry a bit about age and injuries, that really isn't something that can be discussed or debated... but I digress.

It is very difficult for me to believe that Jeter's struggles are the result of a simple slump or some bad luck. There are two main reasons for this, one of which could be the result of the other - I'll start with the big one.

Over the course of his career, Jeter has swung at 19.9% of pitches outside of the strikezone. That number was 22.2% last year, and his career high was 23.7% in 2008. Through this afternoon, Jeter's swinging at 32.4% of those offerings. That is a staggering jump, and its repercussions can be seen in his walk-percentage (4.9% versus a career mark of 8.9%) and, perhaps, the second reason for my doubts.

A quick glance at Jeter's batted-ball profile shows that a career-low 16.4% of his balls in play are line drives - a 4.2% decrease from his career norm, and a 3.9% decrease from 2009. While Jeter's BABIP is unusually low for him, it is actually in-line with his xBABIP. Why, though, am I connecting this to his approach at the plate?

Jeter's contact rate is right in-line with his 2009 rate, and a 2.3% increase over his career norms. The fact that he's hitting fewer line drives may be a result of him swinging (and hitting) more 'pitcher's pitches,' resulting in weaker contact, resulting in fewer hits (along with his decreasing walk totals).

That these numbers have been steady through a quarter season is somewhat disconcerting, but I'm hopeful that it is something that can be remedied - swinging at poor pitches doesn't seem like a result of rapid aging... though, I have heard many older folk say that "the eyes go first." If that's the case, I'm more than willing to chip in for a new pair of glasses or some Lasik for Jeter.

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